Busting Brackets

Big 12 Title Race Tightens Down The Home Stretch


The Big 12 title race is a dead heat with Kansas, Iowa State, Oklahoma and West Virginia crowed at the top. Will this be the year the Jayhawks’ lock on the conference championship is broken?

The Kansas Jayhawks (22-6, 11-4 Big 12) have enjoyed a 10-year reign over the Big 12 conference, but after their 70-63 loss to Kansas State earlier in the week that streak in is jeopardy.

A trio of teams are waiting on their shot to knock Bill Self and the Jayhawks off the title perch. Kansas, losers of three of their last six games, look like the conference’s most vulnerable team.

The Big 12 has been rated as the toughest conference in the country this season, but it was always assumed the Jayhawks would emerge. Will this be the year the streak is broken? A look ahead tells us that it just might be.

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  • Kansas and the Iowa State Cyclones (20-6, 10-4 Big 12) are tied in the loss column, but Kansas holds a tenuous half-game lead with three games remaining (vs. Texas, vs. West Virginia, @ Oklahoma).

    The Jayhawks do control their own destiny, but shaky performances have the Kansas faithful nervous. And the tough three-game stretch to the finish line makes going 3-0 seem unlikely. Let’s take a look at what remains for the three teams lurking just behind the Jayhawks.

    Iowa State Cyclones

    Fred Hoiberg‘s Cyclones seem like the most likely candidate to dethrone the Jayhawks. Much like Kansas, Iowa State can claim at least a share of the Big 12 title by taking care of business and winning the remaining games on their schedule. Winning out will be a tall order. Here’s what the Cyclones have left:

    • vs. Baylor
    • @ Kansas State
    • vs. Oklahoma
    • @ TCU

    While Iowa State, lead by versatile forward Georges Niang and a cast of skilled players, has the offensive firepower to win all four of those games, they can be shaky on the defensive end. And the Cyclones are a much different team away from Hilton Coliseum.

    Winning three of the remaining four would put the Cyclones at 13-5 and surely put a share of the conference title in play. Kansas would have to finish 3-0 in their final games to best the Cyclones in this scenario.

    Oklahoma Sooners

    The Oklahoma Sooners (19-8, 10-5 Big 12) are the hottest team in the Big 12. They have won seven of their last eight including a 94-83 win over Iowa State. Buddy Hield and company host TCU, travel to Ames to face Iowa State then close by hosting Kansas.

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  • Assuming the Sooners defeat TCU, Lon Kruger’s club can claim (at least a share of) the title by finishing with wins over Iowa State and Kansas.  The trip to Ames will be a tough one, but the Sooners have been one of the most improved defensive teams in the country and can slow the Cyclone attack even on the road.

    Should the Sooners beat Iowa State, the scene in Norman for the final game with Kansas will be epic.

    West Virginia Mountaineers

    West Virginia (22-6, 10-5 Big 12) is still in the mix as well. Bob Huggins has his team pressing and running towards postseason play. No team makes life tougher for opponents than the Mountaineers as they lead the nation in steals per game.

    But that defense has not traveled well. The Mountaineers have road trips to Baylor and Kansas awaiting before closing with Oklahoma State at home. If Kansas and Iowa State were to falter and West Virginia were to win out, a share of the crown is likely.

    Juwan Staten leads a balanced attack and the Mountaineers’ unique style has given teams fits all season. West Virginia might be the grittiest team in the Big 12 and they will need that grit down the stretch.

    Beating Baylor, another very solid Big 12 team, in Waco will be a challenge. A victory there would set up a make-or-break showdown in Lawrence with the Jayhawks. West Virginia bested Kansas with a 62-61 buzzer beater in Morgantown and the Jayhawks will be thirsty for revenge.

    Some of these scenarios are far-fetched and some are quite likely so let’s simplify. The Big 12 still belongs to Kansas…for now.

    For Kansas fans, winning out will insure at least a tie for the conference title and would continue the streak. Should the Jayhawks falter and Iowa State win out, the Cyclones are the Big 12 champs and the 10-year streak is over.

    With two games remaining at Phog Allen Fieldhouse, the Jayhawks are likely to finish no worse than 2-1. Kansas is near unbeatable at home and this would seem a safe bet. In that scenario, Iowa State would have to run the table to ice the Jayhawks out of a share of the title.

    No doubt, something unpredictable will happen…it is the Big 12. The most noteworthy thing that could happen in a season full of Big 12 parity would be for the Kansas Jayhawks to miss out on a share of the conference crown, but I would not bet on it.

    Next: Coach's Clipboard: Iowa State Cyclones Use Versatility Of Georges Niang

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